The Vatican said that patients in a vegetative state, with few exceptions, have a moral right to artificial food and hydration. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented, according to a statement from the Vatican and approved by Pope Benedict XVI.
Nutrition and hydration support are not obligatory when such care becomes excessively burdensome or when patients cannot assimilate food and liquids so that their provision becomes altogether useless, the Vaticans Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith wrote in a statement.
U.S. bishops asked the Vatican in July 2005 to clarify the churchs position on food and hydration for patients in a vegetative state, including those expected never to recover. The request followed a March 2004 speech by Pope John Paul II that raised questions among U.S. Catholic healthcare providers about when such care can be withheld according to the church. Catholic hospitals follow directives for care and business operations set by the church.
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the statement does not contradict prior church teaching, but for the first time explicitly states that it is immoral to remove food and hydration from vegetative patients who are not expected to regain consciousness. -- by Melanie Evans
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